From the Director





by Rex Parker, Director

October 11 Meeting. Hope to see you at Peyton Hall auditorium on the Princeton Campus for our next meeting (7:30 pm Oct 11). Please see Ira’s article in this edition of S.T. for information about the guest speaker. In addition to the lecture, we’ll discuss significant upcoming events – Jersey StarQuest 2016 (below) and emerging plans for the Jenny Jump Observatory.

Let Us Know What You’re Thinking. If you’ve recently joined, are considering becoming a member, or have been an amateur astronomer in AAAP for years, we want to hear from you! We draw upon an amazing pool of local and regional talent to provide members and public with monthly guest lectures, such as recent speakers from Princeton University Astrophysics, NASA, IAS, Rutgers, Columbia, and several high tech companies. We operate an Observatory at Washington Crossing Park with state-of-the-art telescopes, and are active in public science/astronomy outreach. Please give us some feedback – we’re interested in your views, positive or otherwise. You can reach me at, or you can contact other Board members using the addresses listed on our website (“Contact Us” tab).

Jersey StarQuest, Oct 28-30, 2016. The observing event of the year for amateur astronomers in our area is fast approaching. Held each year at the Hope Conference and Renewal Center in north Jersey, StarQuest is all about deep sky telescopic observing at one of the best locations in the state (see below about light pollution and the quality of this site). Hope Center offers clean bunkhouse accommodations or camping on-site and a kitchen for cooking if desired. No meals are provided by the club; restaurants are within a few minute drive. Even if you don’t own a telescope, here’s your chance to learn hands-on about astronomy and observing and make new friends. Here’s how we’ll organize the event.

  • Walk-in registration, no advance payment, no pre-registration. You can decide to attend at the last minute. We ask that you send in a non-binding intent-to-participate form (distributed by e-mail) to help us estimate needs for the Conference Center.
  • This is a chance to meet other amateur astronomers and make friends in the club. Attendees are encouraged to observe through other telescopes on the field. You’re also welcome to bring family and invite other interested people who are not yet members.
  • Low costs (the Club subsidizes the event). Per night fees: $20 adults, $10 children (6-12), regardless of bunkhouse or tent/RV camping. No meals will be provided though the Center’s kitchen will be available. Hot and cold drinks will be provided throughout the weekend.

Why Go to Hope NJ (StarQuest site) or Jenny Jump to Observe? Light pollution limits the contrast of deep sky objects seen in telescopes – galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. While it’s easy to see that this depends on your location, how do you know just where to go to improve visibility? Until recently, available light pollution maps offered low resolution and accuracy because they were based mainly on population density charts. But the latest maps using satellite-based physical data have markedly improved resolution and reliability. For example, extensive satellite imaging data from the Earth Observation Group of NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center was used by Slovenian GIS expert Jurij Stare to create a new high resolution light pollution map using Bing map overlays. The data for these maps comprises nighttime radiance composite images from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). VIIRS is a scanning radiometer by Raytheon on board the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership weather satellite managed by NOAA and NASA. Radiance, the radiant flux per unit solid angle, is visually perceived as luminance and interpreted as skyglow. The SI unit of radiance (watts/cm2*sr) can be converted to the SI unit of luminance (candelas/m2), and to the unit reported by the Sky Quality Meter (magnitudes/arc-sec2) familiar to amateur astronomers. Indeed, user-entered Sky Quality Meter data constitutes one of the map layers on the light pollution map created by Jurij Stare.

You can see in the screen shot below (or by going to the website) the gradients in light pollution across our region, and compare your home to the AAAP facilities at Washington Crossing and the darker skies at Jenny Jump and Jersey StarQuest near Hope NJ. That’s one more good reason to attend StarQuest this year! The detailed, high resolution maps are available on-line at:

Dark Sky Map September 2016

Dark Sky Map September 2016

Light pollution in the NJ area and around the globe. from satellite radiance data. Map screenshot used by permission of the author, Jurij Stare, Bing map layer by Microsoft. Data credit and global-wide VIIRS image: Earth Observation Group, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center.

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane

I am starting the logistical work to put together an AAAP trip to view the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.   While it seems to be an event far into the future, if we wait too long, there will be few choices available for us. Therefore I will put forth some options that are open to us now.

We are fortunate that our fellow AAAP member, and club historian, John Church has made some inquires on our behalf. His brother lives very close to the path of totality in Oregon. A potential viewing site on private property that is within the path of totality is available for our use. It is located near Corvallis Oregon. While I have not, yet, identified hotels or motels, I can do this once I have a general number of interested members. With a number of members who are very interested, I can also begin a search for affordable airline flights. If we can get a group of at least ten or twelve interested members, we should be able to qualify for discounts.

So I will make an announcement of all this at our next membership meeting, but in case you cannot attend the next meeting on October 11, please let me know if you are interested in this exceptional group activity. If you think you might want to be a participant. Please send your name and a statement of interest to my email:

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Restoration of the 6-1/2 Inch Prin Telescope of the Daniel S. Schanck Observatory

by Ira Polans

Steven K. Korotky

Steven K. Korotky Ph.D.

Our next speaker is Steven K. Korotky, former Senior Research Scientist at Bell Laboratories. In his talk on October 11, he will summarize the history of the Schanck Observatory including its renovation, recount the journey of the Prin telescope, and provide an update on his work to restore and reinstate it as the scientific centerpiece of the historic astronomical observatory.

The renovation of Rutgers University’s Daniel S. Schanck Observatory was recently completed in time for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of its original dedication on June 18, 1866. However, absent from the observatory for more than two decades has been its third and last working telescope – the 6 and 1/2 inch refractor fabricated by Georges Prin in 1929. Earlier this year the Prin telescope was located and the process of restoring it and reassembling it in the Schanck was begun.

Hope to see you at 7:30 P.M. at Peyton Hall on October 11, 2016.

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Minutes of the September 13, 2016 AAAP Meeting

by James Poinsett, Secretary

Minutes of the September 2016 Meeting of the AAAP

  • Club director, Rex Parker, called the meeting to order and reviewed the club happenings since May of last year.
    • The May 9th Mercury Transit
    • The new telescope in the observatory, a Takahashi Mewlon – 250
    • FIOS has been installed at the observatory
    • The board has resolved to continue AAAP’s commitment to the Jenny Jump observatory
    • StarQuest 2016 will be the weekend of October 28-30, no pre-registration required. It will be primarily an observing event. No food will be provided.
  • The lecture was by Dr. Jia Lin, it was titled “Neutrinos, their discovery, detection and future prospects”.
  • After the lecture we spent some time remembering our friend Gene Ramsey with pictures and stories about him. He will be missed.
  • Jenny Jump observatory was the next subject of discussion.
    • The club received a request to refurbish and utilize our observatory or give it up.
    • The board has decided to re-commit to the observatory. One option would be to share the observatory with AAI. The AAAP would still own the lease and the equipment but both clubs members would be trained to use it.
    • The main problem is the roof does not open all the way.
    • Bill Murray and Gene Allen will chair a repair committee, several more members volunteered to be on it. October 8th is the most likely date for a work party to attempt repairs.
    • A motion was made to authorize up to $1000 for repairs to the observatory. The motion was seconded and the board members present voted unanimously to approve the motion.
  • The Stokes Star party is on November 5th & 6th. It is a no frills party.
  • StarQuest is set for Oct 28-30, the Hope Conference center has been booked.
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The First Public Night Without Gene

by Kevin Mooney

When Gene Ramsey was asked why he preferred to view an astronomical object through a telescope eyepiece as opposed to the computer screen, he would respond by saying “there was no substitute for having the light from a distant object touch his optic nerve.” Gene, who oversaw the marriage between computer technology and astronomy at the Washington Crossing Park Observatory, saw great value in new technology, but also kept technology in its proper space. With Gene, it was that special human touch between him, the public and club members who shared his enthusiasm for astronomy that will endure. This photo was taken during the public night that very appropriately coincided with the day of his funeral. For me to say he will be missed hardly captures what needs to be said. But he will be missed.

Gene RIP

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O, For a Dark Night Sky

by David J. Kaplan

The city’s night sky
Holds the moon aloft,
A dim orb.

The drinking gourd dismantled
Cassiopeia banished.
Orion dismembered.

O, for a dark night sky,
Which shimmers
In both mind and eye.

When meteors from heaven sent,
Toward Earth their voyage bent

With an arc as wide
As a child’s smile.

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Rocket Science

By Prasad Ganti

Recently, SpaceX’s rocket Falcon 9 blew up on the launch pad, after having had several successes with Falcon 9 in the past. A further failure last year was reported when its rocket blew up in space. Regardless, the company has been successful and is a good example of a private enterprise making it into the space launching business, thereby breaking the monopoly enjoyed by NASA.

Blue Origin, the company launched by Jeff Bezos, the founding CEO of Amazon, has lofty ambitions and announced their New Glenn Stage 2 and Stage 3 rocket. Notwithstanding the taunts Bezos was throwing at SpaceX’s failure, the future bodes well for both companies, as well as Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares and Paul Allen’s Vulcan rockets.

A multitude of rockets make me ask the question of what are the differences between them. In terms of size, power, capabilities etc. For instance, how is the BMW 700 series of cars different than the 300 series ? Also, how is Boeing 777 different than 747 or Airbus A380 different than 320 ? I saw a picture published by Blue Origin showing the different rockets standing next to each other. Given below is the picture which caught my imagination.
Photo Credit:  SpaceX
Clearly, Saturn V rocket which took Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts to the moon, stands head and shoulders above the others. Though the others are getting closer. The New Glenn rockets are next in the line. They represent the future and have not stood the test of the time yet. Delta IV heavy is next in line. It also has two solid booster rockets strapped to it. It is used to launch heavy payloads into space.

Falcon Heavy is a powerful version of Falcon 9. The two solid rocket boosters attached to its sides indicate the power. Atlas V is currently in use while Vulcan is from the new venture promoted by Paul Allen, the founder of Microsoft. These two spaceships look comparable. Of course, the specifications do vary. Ariane 5 is the workhorse of the European Space Agency. Routinely launching commercial payloads from French Guiana in South America. Likewise Soyuz is the workhorse of Russia and has been in use for a long time now. Antares rocket from Orbital Sciences had some successes in the recent times, another private venture vying to get contracts from NASA.

Other than the sizes we have seen here, they differ in terms of the engines used, the number of stages employed, and the fuel utilized etc. Solid rocket boosters use solid fuel which produces more push per pound than the liquid fuels. But it is difficult to stop once lit. Hence it used in the first stage of a rocket. Liquid fuels are more controllable and used in the later stages of a rocket burn cycle. Cryogenic engines generate more thrust per unit of fuel and are used as the final stage to deliver heavy payload into the space.

Though not shown in the picture, other countries have rockets too like China, Japan and India. Rocket launches are becoming more democratic: both amongst countries as well as companies. Still Rocket Science is hard and unforgiving as the recent disasters prove. But the future seems to be bright for space launches.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex Begins Trailblazing Asteroid Sampling Mission

by Dr. Ken Kremer

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Bound for asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic explorer began a trailblazing 7 year round trip sampling sortie on Sept. 8 in search of the origin of life with a spectacular sky show – thrilling spectators, including myself, ringing the Florida Space Coast.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off on Sept 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid.  Credit: Ken Kremer/

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off on Sept 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Hordes of space enthusiasts from all across the globe descended on the Kennedy Space Center region to witness a once in a lifetime liftoff to the carbon rich asteroid – which could potentially bring back samples infused with the organic chemicals like amino acids that are the building blocks of life as we know it.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft departed Earth atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket under crystal clear skies on September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Everything went exactly according to plan for the daring mission bolding seeking to gather rocks and soil from Bennu – using an ingenious robotic arm named TAGSAM – and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by scientists using the world’s most advanced research instruments. The space rock measures about the size of a small mountain at about a third of a mile in diameter.

“We got everything just exactly perfect,” said Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, at the post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. “We hit all our milestone within seconds of predicts.
The ULA Atlas V rocket integrated with OSIRIS-Rex on top thundered off the Cape’s pad 41 and shot skyward straight up along an equatorial path into Florida’s sun drenched skies.

From every vantage point the rocket and its ever expanding vapor trail were visible for some 4 or 5 minutes or more. From my location on the roof of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the rocket finally arched over nearly straight above us and the sun produced a magnificent thin and nearly straight shadow of the vapor trail on the ground running out to the Atlantic Ocean towards Africa.

OSIRIS-REx separated as planned from the Atlas V rockets second stage to fly free at 8:04 p.m. on Sept. 8 – 55 minutes after launch. The pair of solar arrays deployed as planned to provide the probes life giving power. The spacecraft was built by prime contractor Lockheed.

Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/

Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told me in a prelaunch interview in the KSC cleanroom with the spacecraft as the probe was undergoing final preparations for shipment to the launch pad.

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation. It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

After a two year flight through space, including an Earth swing by for a gravity assisted speed boost in 2017, OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in Fall 2018 to begin about 2 years of study in orbit to determine the physical and chemical properties of the asteroid in extremely high resolution.

While orbiting Bennu in 2018 it will move in close to explore the asteroid for about two years with its suite of science instruments, scanning in visible and infrared light. After a thorough site selection, it will move carefully towards the surface and extend the 11 foot long. TAGSAM will snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface over just 3 to 5 seconds.

Watch my up close videos captured directly at the pad with the sights and sounds of the fury of launch.

For complete details about ULA’s Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch see my recent articles and photos at Universe Today:

Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

Nov 2-4: “GOES-R launch and Curiosity on Mars.” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL

Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email:   website:

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compiled by David Kaplan

Comet 67P

Comet 67P. Credit: NYTimes

Rosetta Mission Ends With Spacecraft’s Dive Into Comet
Rosetta, the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, is dead, setting down in a final embrace with its companion of the past two years.

Radio signals from Rosetta flatlined at 7:19 a.m. Eastern after it did a soft belly-flop onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at a speed of two miles per hour, slower than the average walk… more

An artist’s rendering of the 30m Telescope. NYTimes

An artist’s rendering of the 30m Telescope. NYTimes

Under Hawaii’s Starriest Skies, a Fight Over Sacred Ground
MAUNA KEA, Hawaii — Little lives up here except whispering hopes and a little bug called Wekiu.

Three miles above the Pacific, you are above almost half the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and every step hurts. A few minutes in the sun will fry your skin… more

Jack Garman in 1968

Jack Garman in 1968. NYTimes

Jack Garman, Whose Judgment Call Saved Moon Landing, Dies at 72
On July 20, 1969, moments after mission control in Houston had given the Apollo 11 lunar module, Eagle, the O.K. to begin its descent to the moon, a yellow warning light flashed on the cockpit instrument panel… more

From the 1875 book Elements of Astronomy. (Photo: Internet Archive/Public Domain)

From the 1875 book Elements of Astronomy. (Photo: Internet Archive/Public Domain)

Space Art Propelled Scientific Exploration of the Cosmos—But Its Star is Fading Fast
In a serpentine building that snakes through the Connecticut countryside, a strange meeting took place this past July. A group of four scientists from NASA, including an astronaut, a robotics expert, and the agency’s deputy administrator, conferred with some 30 painters, sculptors and poets… more

Chesley Bonestell (Photo: Wikimedia)

Chesley Bonestell (Photo: Wikimedia)

Meet the Father of Modern Space Art
Twenty-five years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface, Chesley Bonestell showed humanity a view from Saturn’s moon. The image was an astonishingly beautiful painting titled Saturn as seen from Titan… more

Young star TW Hydrae

Young star TW Hydrae

Star’s dust cloud gives birth to giant planet
Astronomers have discovered signs of a baby planet developing around another star… more

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